Understanding the Founding
The Crucial Questions
Second Edition, Revised and Expanded
The first edition of Alan Gibson’s Understanding the Founding is widely regarded as an invaluable guide to the last century's key debates surrounding America’s founding. This new edition retains all of the strengths of the original while adding a substantial new section addressing a major but previously unaddressed issue and also significantly revising Gibson’s invaluable conclusion and bibliography.
In the original edition, which was built upon his previous work in Interpreting the Founding, Gibson addressed four key questions: Were the Framers motivated by their economic interests? How democratic was the Framers’ Constitution? Should we interpret the Founding using philosophical or strictly historical approaches? What traditions of political thought were most important to the Framers? He focused especially on the preconceptions that scholars brought to these questions, explored the deepest sources of scholars’ disagreements over them, and suggested new and thoughtful lines of interpretation and inquiry. His incisive analysis brought clarity to the complex and sprawling debates and shed new light on the institutional and intellectual foundations of the American political system.
“It is a singular strength of Gibson’s work that, while he is always ready to take seriously the received wisdom about the Framers, he is equally ready to offer a thoughtful, substantial counterpoint.”
—American Review of Politics
“A lucid and often trenchant analysis of some of the most persistent questions surrounding the nations founding.”
—HistorianSee all reviews...
“What an impressive achievement is this exhaustively thorough, crisply written, shrewdly analytical study of the principal interpretations that have shaped the history of the U.S. Constitution.”
—Joyce Appleby, author of Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans
“Gibson demonstrates once again why he is one of the best of the political theorists working on the founding.”
—Gordon S. Wood, author of Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different
“Superb. Taken together with his Interpreting the Founding, Gibson’s book provides the essential point of departure for future work on our Constitutional beginnings.”
—Peter Onuf, author of Jeffersons Empire: The Language of American NationhoodSee fewer reviews...
Gibson has now added a path-breaking new chapter entitled “How Could They Have Done That? Founding Scholarship and the Question of Moral Responsibility,” which reprises and critiques on of the most important and vexing contemporary debates on the American founding. The new chapter focuses on how the men who fought a revolution in the name of liberty and declared to the world that “all men are created equal” could have supported the institution of slavery and even owned slaves themselves, accepted the legal and social subordination of women, and been responsible for Indian removal and genocide against Native Americans. Efforts to criticize or defend the Founders on these issues now constitute a daunting body of scholarship addressing what David Brion Davis has called the “dilemmas of slaveholding revolutionaries.” Gibson’s astute and fair-minded analysis of this scholarship offers keen insights into how we might move toward more mature and responsible evaluations of the Founders.